Understanding Visitor Activity

Author: Nola Young

Scenario:

You’ve made an investment in a Web presence and you are wondering what kind of activity it is getting.

Question:

How do I measure Web site activity and what is the difference between hits, page views, and user sessions?

Answer:

There is often much confusion with respect to understanding the traffic on your Web site and how it is calculated. Many of my clients have asked for a counter to be placed on their Web site so that they can see the number of hits they are getting. These people think hits are synonymous with unique visitors. The truth, however, is very different.

First, we must understand how Web sites deliver information to a browser. When you visit a Web site, you are actually requesting that a server send you the information contained in that page. The page itself may contain many different kinds of elements like text, graphic images, audio, and HTML itself. The server response to this request and writes the summary of the action into a log file. Anyone with access to that log file can then create a statistics report based on that information.

There are many types of measurements of activity but, the most commonly used information is the number of hits, page views, and user sessions.

A hit is a request to the server for a file. If you go to a single page for example, which contains several elements as described above, the result could be anywhere above two assuming you have the HTML page and a graphic on that page.

Page views (or page impressions) are the number of pages viewed not including the supporting graphic files. This is a more accurate description of the activity of a visitor on your site. Therefore, you can take the number of unique visitors and divide it by the number of page views. You can then understand how many pages the average visitor views, thereby assessing whether or not they are getting good information or if they are coming in and going out quickly.

User sessions are the number of unique visitors who visit your Web site during a specified period of time. This is the number of people who have never visited your site before which will give you an indication that your marketing efforts are working, or not working. It is good to know that you are still attracting new people to your site and it is also good to know which method they came to your site by.

Other information that you may find useful is the resources accessed (meaning which pages were most and least accessed). This will help you determine what your visitors are interested in. And, visitor demographics will tell you the geographic regions and countries that are visiting your site and the type of organization which is visiting such as government (.gov), education (.edu), network (?), or company (.com).

A lot of information can be gained from visitor activity on your Web site. Assessing that information is important. It will help you make decisions regarding future changes to your site. Knowing who your visitors are, and what they are interested in, will only help you to make your site more effective and attractive to visitors. If you understand visitor activity then you will understand what that knowledge can in turn do for you and your clients.


Nola Young is the president of KW Digital Solutions. Send your comments or questions by email or call 519-741-7641.